The traffic police officer who led a group of seven others to evacuate an ambulance moments before it was torched during the Little India riot on Dec 8 last year, said that his actions was not an act of cowardice.
Station Inspector (SI) Muhammad Adil Lawi, 42, on Thursday told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) convened to look into the riot: "When I saw fire through the cracked windscreen of the ambulance, I realised there was no more time to spare. The threat was very real."
This scene was captured in a much-discussed video online. If the group, which comprised two traffic policemen, two Certis Cisco auxiliary police officers (APO) and four paramedics, had stayed behind in the ambulance in which they had taken refuge from raining projectiles, SI Adil said that they "would have been burnt alive".
He made the "tactical decision" after a paramedic overheard rioters outside the ambulance saying that they were going to burn the vehicle. Separately, an APO present in the ambulance heard a foreign worker who had climbed into the driver's seat say in Tamil: "I want you all to die today."
When Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar took the stand last Friday, he praised SI Adil, calling him a "brave officer".
Video footage shown in court, which was filmed and submitted by an eyewitness at the scene, showed a group of foreign workers helping the trapped officers escape by opening the door of the ambulance. While that was happening, projectiles were still being pelted by several rioters, some of whom could be seen rejoicing after a patrol car parked in front of the ambulance was set on fire. SI Adil said: "We were unable to tell at this time what the rioters' intentions were - to assist or to torch the ambulance."
The court also heard that only one out of the several active rioters caught on film pelting projectiles had been identified by investigators.
Committee member John de Payva asked: "Couldn't the one identify the rest for us? The rest could still be in Singapore, could still be in Little India, or could have gone back to India?"
State Counsel Sharmila Sripathy said: "Yes sir, we don't know their whereabouts."